This weekend is one of the tentpoles of the football season— El Clásico. While this fixture is never just about the football, the football actually does matter on Sunday. Real Madrid has a small cushion at the top of La Liga with a game in hand on Barcelona. With time running out on the 2016-17 season, Real could just about put the title race to bed with a win over their hated rivals. El Clásico is always a big deal, but Sunday in particular is huge.
We haven’t covered El Clásico much in this column, and when we did it was either because a luminary in the sport passed away or it was a What We Talk About When We Talk About El Clásico sort of thing. But this fixture isn’t just about history or politics or culture. El Clásico is consistently one of the more exciting games you’ll see all year.
This week we revisit El Clásico and drink in a clash that was all about entertainment value.
I’m not kidding. This game was fun.
There were huge football implications, of course. Real Madrid, coming off a difficult two years, seemed to have gotten their mojo back and were in the mix to win the title. But they had a bit of a mountain to climb, as Barcelona had a nine goal lead at the top of La Liga. As so often happens, their showdown would have major consequences for the title race.
In the same way that the Merseyside Derby isn’t the same without a ton of bookings, El Clásico isn’t the same without an avalanche of goals. Both teams absolutely went in on each other and it was truly a sight to behold.
And they wasted no time, either. The inimitable Zinedine Zidane drew first blood after just seven minutes with a thundering header at the far post from Ronaldo. He got the goal but became a bit too familiar with the goalpost and spent a few minutes on the ground.
Ronaldo doubled the lead just 13 minutes later, heading in a free kick at the far post. 2-0 and barely into the first half, it looked like it might be Real Madrid’s day.
But just nine minutes later Samuel Eto’o cut the lead in half, shaking off three defenders and stealing back his own lay-off to beat the keeper at close range. It set off a fierce Barcelona comeback that rendered the first half incredibly tense and nearly leveled the score.
But Real Madrid weren’t messing around. Just before halftime, Raúl finished off a low cross that squeezed out of the keeper’s grasp to give Real a 3-1 lead heading into the break.
Barcelona menaced their hosts in the opening minutes of Act II, eager to build on the momentum they had built up and squandered at halftime.
But it wasn’t their day. Michael Owen got the ball on the break a little past the hour mark and made a clean finish to give Real a 4-1 advantage. (David Beckham hit the pass on that play and it was gorgeous.)
Barcelona managed to pull one back, thanks to a sublime free kick from Ronaldinho. It was one of those set pieces where no one even tries to stop it— it’s too magnificent.
But that was it for the visitors. The final whistle blew at 4-2 and millions of Madridistas roared.
The win gave Real Madrid a huge boost in their quest to catch up to Barcelona in the title race. But it wasn’t quite enough; they finished four points behind of their Catalan rivals and had to settle for Champions League group stage qualification. Still, the message was sent— we’re back, and we’re coming for you.
The war resumes again on Sunday at the Santiago Bernabeu. Kickoff is at 2:45pm Eastern on beIN Sports.